Filipino refugees in Sabah

Filipino refugees in Sabah

Assessment for each PPG

Current Situation and Achievements to date

In 1987, UNHCR phased out its 10 year operation in Sabah when the situation of Filipino refugees was considered at par with that of the local Sabahans. At the time of exit, the Malaysian Government had begun issuing the Filipino refugees a temporary residence and work permit, and thereby took on a greater protection responsibility towards the caseload. Nevertheless, the standard of living for many Filipino refugees remains below the poverty line. The lack of consistency in both types of identity documentation issued to the Filipino refugees, and application of procedures for obtaining these documents, severely hampers their integration into the Sabahan community. Owing to their lack of income generation or employment opportunities, many Filipino refugees have limited or no access to clean water and electricity. In order to survive, they are engaged in very low level paying jobs that locals are not keen to do.

The Filipino refugees who have not acquired permanent residence status or citizenship continue to experience a myriad of problems deriving from their lack of proper documentation, including limited or no access to education, family planning, sanitation, health care and sometimes even birth registration. According to the federal task force for Sabah, the Filipino Muslim refugees together with their offspring are estimated to be 80,000 persons. Based on this figure, it would appear that only 61% have some form of documentation to regularise their status. The remaining 39% continue to be at risk of arrest and deportation. 

The Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah published its report and recommended that a permanent secretariat be established to address the issue of illegal immigrants in the state. UNHCR will continue to monitor the situation in Sabah and the fact that it does not have a permanent presence there; monitoring capacity will rather be limited.

Strategy for each PPG

Protection and Solutions Strategy (comprehensive)

UNHCR has no presence in Sabah and therefore information on the Filipino population residing there is limited. Were funds available, UNHCR would regularly monitor the situation of the Filipino refugees and take proactive steps in meeting their protection needs.

Prioritized Results

The lack of funds availability means that UNHCR’s work with this population is largely limited to annual monitoring missions and advocacy activities with the relevant authorities.

Unmet Needs

Refugees and asylum-seekers in peninsular Malaysia have been prioritised because of their vulnerability. As a result, programmes for Filipino refugees in east Malaysia are limited. Reports from previous missions show a worsening in the living conditions of the Filipino Muslims, which can only be partially addressed by UNHCR. With additional resource, UNHCR Malaysia will be able to carry out additional interventions and activities to expand the protection space for Filipino refugees in Sabah.